Senedd roundup: Petition against “5-mile” travel limit tops 10,000 signatures

5 miles from Rhyl. Picture by Jaggery (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Welsh Conservative Shadow Covid Recovery Minister Darren Millar MS is urging the Welsh government to ease travel restrictions and scrap its ‘arbitrary and cruel five-mile rule’ after a petition against the constraint topped 10,000 signatures.

First Minister Mark Drakeford announced two weeks ago that people from two different households can meet each other outdoors but will need to stay in their local area – a distance of five miles – and remain two metres apart.

Both Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives said that the 5-mile guidance was unfair on rural communities, but Mr Drakeford said the limit is “a rule of thumb for people to apply in their local geographies in Wales.”

Mr Millar said: “This petition provides clear evidence that the people of Wales want to see the Welsh Government’s arbitrary and cruel five-mile rule and travel restrictions lifted.

“The Welsh Government must adopt a safe and sensible lifting of the lockdown that protects both lives and livelihoods and reflects the importance of families and relationships.”

A further 10 people with coronavirus have died in Wales, according to Public Health Wales.  The total number of deaths has now increased to 1,435.

There were 77 more confirmed cases reported in the last 24 hours, taking the total number to 14,658 in Wales since the outbreak started in March. There were 3,681 tests conducted yesterday. 

Mark Drakeford the First Minister of Wales. Picture by the Welsh Government

Government won’t take chances in easing Welsh lockdown

First Minister Mark Drakeford says the Welsh Government will continue to approach the easing of lockdown measures with caution “however loud the demands” are for opening things up more rapidly.

Speaking at Friday’s press briefing Mr Drakeford said: “We can chose a path in which we regain our freedoms gradually, carefully and safely, using the headroom we have made together – but never taking steps which would knowingly undermine everything we have achieved.

“Or we could throw it all away, lift the restrictions in a rush and run the real risk that this deadly virus would be on the rise again in Wales.

“I want you to know that whatever happens elsewhere and however loud the demands to do things differently may be, we will stick to the path we have chosen.”

Retailers in Wales have called for the government to give them a date from when non-essential shops can open in Wales and this week the tourist industry said it was on the verge of collapse due to the lockdown measures.

Shops in England are due to re-open next Monday and restrictions on travel the other side of the border were lifted last month.

The Welsh Conservatives have pressed also for “social bubbles” to be introduced in Wales as they have been in England and criticised the advice to “stay local” by limiting travel away from home.

Conservative MPs at Westminster have also been calling for the reduction of the two-metre social distancing to help shops restaurants and pubs to reopen in England, calls echoed by a number of Tory politicians in Wales too.

But the first minister said Wales’ two-metre social distancing rule will only change if the scientific advice does, noting that the advice received by the UK and Welsh governments was very clear, “if you halve the distance from two metres to one metre you double the risk.”

“If the advice from Sage [Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies] and chief medical officers changed then our position would change here in Wales,” he added.

Calls for Wales to have full powers over criminal justice 

Plaid Cymru has called for Wales to have full powers over criminal justice after the Westminster Government announced yesterday that probation services in England and Wales are to be fully restored to public ownership and control.

Robert Buckland, UK Justice Secretary, confirmed the complete return of probation services in England and Wales to the public sector. This means that offender management, rehabilitation and unpaid work will all be brought under the control of the National Probation Service (NPS), ending the privatisation reforms in 2014.

Plaid Cymru Shadow Minister for Justice and Equalities Leanne Wood MS had called the original decision to part-privatise the service a “disaster” and says it’s time to “wake up” now that the “privatisation dream has been shattered.”

Ms Wood added that with the highest incarceration rates in western Europe, and the numbers of prisoners dying from substance abuse reaching an all-time high, “the English criminal justice system is just not working” for Wales.

Criminal justice campaigner Nadine Marshall, whose 18-year-old son Conner was beaten to death in Porthcawl in 2015 by an attacker who was on probation at the time, welcomed the news but said: “I’m sad for all the families who have had to suffer like mine, and I’m terrified that more families will suffer personal tragedy at the hands of someone on probation, in this ‘gone wrong’ experiment of the UK criminal justice system.

 “We know the system is broken and if Wales had control, we could change it so that we know longer have the risk of this broken system hanging over our heads.”

Welsh Government allocates £16 million of roads funding to local authorities

Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales Ken Skates has announced over £16 million in transport grants – nearly £5 million of which will be spent on repairing the damage caused by storms earlier this year.

All local authorities were invited to submit applications for funding and 21 applications were received from 13 local authorities.

The fund of £16.9 million will support 18 schemes across Wales and will support projects that seek to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change, including addressing disruptions caused on the highway network by the severe weather.

Close to £2.5 million is being invested in projects in mid and south west Wales, including £400,000 to develop a long-term sustainable solution in Pembrokeshire to the A487 at Newgale. Over £4.9 million will be spent on work to repair and future-proof key transport routes across Caerphilly and Rhondda Cynon Taf where local communities were particularly affected by the storms earlier this year.

In addition, over £6 million has been made available to construct a further section of the Old Colwyn coastal defence scheme, which will protect the highway and active travel route from severe weather.

Mr Skates said: “The grants are a substantial investment to support long-term sustainable economic growth and recovery from the effects of the storms, enhance public transport facilities, and improve routes that will encourage more people in Wales to walk and cycle.”

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